THE BLOG

Wedding Vows 2014 - 'Til Debt Us Do Part

16/01/2014 12:41 GMT | Updated 17/03/2014 09:59 GMT

Most infatuated couples on their wedding day make the promise to each other that 'all I have I share with you'. In 2014, for a large number of couples, 'all that I owe' would be more apt.

According to government statistics, consumer debt has trebled in the last 20 years, and now stands at £158 billion - an average of almost £6,500 per household.

Among the many issues created by this prevalence of couples running their lives on credit is what happens to the debt if they break up, and this problem is exacerbated by the fact that UK courts are powerless to change the way marital debts are split post-divorce.

Debts built up on a joint credit card will be split 50-50, while credit cards or loans in an individual's name will stay with them - regardless of which party benefited from the spending in reality.

In fact, in the past five years, we've seen an almost 50 per cent rise in the number of cases where one party in the marriage is left claiming they're "picking up the tab" for debts they didn't build up.

This can happen for two reasons.

The first is in situations where one party in a divorce spent much more heavily on a shared credit card than the other. No matter how prudent their partner is, they will always be saddled with half of the bill in the event of a divorce.

It's a particular issue at this time of year. We're right in the middle of the "divorce month" of January - the period when the highest number of divorce cases are filed, and also the time when many people feel the financial hangover of their festive excesses.

The second scenario we see is where a couple's lifestyle has been maintained on credit, and the vast majority of this debt is in the name of only one party.

Where there are assets to divide - equity in a house for example - a court can offset the imbalance of debt by awarding more to the poorer party. With so many people living their lives entirely in the red, including having little or no equity in their house, this is becoming impossible in a growing number of cases.

The obvious advice to couples is that they should avoid getting into debt if at all possible. However, for those for whom this is not an option, it's important to make sure that any debt that is built up is assigned to the right name - shared spending should always be on a joint card, and any individual debt should be in that person's name.

No-one who is happily married wants to think about the possibility of the relationship coming to an end, but in our experience these precautions could save a great deal of stress and heartache should the relationship break down.